"if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen
the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu.

Canada must not shy away from calling 1984 Sikh massacre a genocide Featured

Gurpreet Singh

Considering recent political developments in India, Canada, which claims to be a human rights leader in the world, should stand up for the Sikhs and recognize the 1984 Sikh massacre as genocide.

Thousands of Sikhs were murdered across India during the first week of November 1984 following the assassination of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. The innocent Sikhs were systematically targeted by mobs led by Gandhi’s ruling Congress party in connivance with the police.

Years have passed, but there has been no justice to the victims’ families. Barring a few convictions of foot soldiers involved in the mayhem, no senior politician complicit in the crime has been brought to book. Successive non-Congress governments, including the current one led by the right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), also failed to bring closure. In fact, attacks on religious minorities have grown under the BJP rule. It is believed that BJP supporters also joined the murderous gangs that let loose a reign of terror on Sikhs in 1984, to help Congress win the election riding on a wave of sympathy by polarizing the Hindu majority in the aftermath of Gandhi’s murder. 

In the absence of justice and the Indian establishment's continued denial of any wrongdoing in the world’s so called largest democracy, Canada and other western democracies need to step in.

This becomes even more necessary after the recent appointment of Kamal Nath as Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh (MP) state in India.

Nath was seen leading the mobs outside a historic gurdwara in New Delhi, the national capital of India. Though he was never charged, the witnesses believe he was responsible for the violence that led to at least two murders near the gurdwara. Nath denies this and claims having tried to distract the crowd. 

Under his leadership, the Congress won the assembly election in MP after defeating the BJP. The liberal democrats who see Congress as a secular alterative to the BJP continue to overlook its baggage of 1984 and have shown scant interest in the outrage over Nath’s appointment.

Despite worldwide protests by Sikhs against his appointment as Chief Minister, the Congress party went ahead with its controversial decision, which establishes that the party doesn’t care about the Sikhs who make up merely two per cent of the Indian population. Canadian Sikhs too have been petitioning against his impending appointment. Notably, when Nath was visiting Canada in 2010 as union minister he was greeted by angry Sikh protesters. The New Democrat Leader at the time, Jack Layton, had boycotted his events.      

Canada, which has a significant number of Sikh MPs and ministers in the federal government, should learn something from the legacy of a towering leader like Layton and seriously think of recognizing the 1984 violence as genocide.  

That’s the least the Canadian government can do to exert pressure on India for justice. After all, there has been a campaign going on for this in our country. Several MPs have unsuccessfully tried to achieve this target by presenting a genocide petition in the house, while Ontario legislature has already passed a motion calling 1984 massacre genocide.

Not surprisingly, these symbolic, but important actions drew angry response from the Indian government, which won’t ever acknowledge something that ruptures its reputation internationally. Recognizing it as such in future will elicit similar response. Even the BJP government isn’t going to accept this in spite of the fact that the crime was committed by the Congress. The reason is simple. The BJP too has many skeletons in its closet, as it had engineered a similar massacre against Muslims in Gujarat back in 2002. The current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat when the violence broke out against Muslims. While Modi was never charged, the survivors believe he was involved in the massacre. Once 1984 is recognized as genocide, the 2002 episode cannot be left out of the list of genocides all over the world, and the BJP will never want this to happen.   

Canada shouldn’t just worry about its trade relations with India. It must pay attention to its obligation to human rights or simply stop claiming to be a global champion of social justice.

Keeping in view that the Indian establishment refuses to serve justice to the victims of 1984 and has repeatedly shown its unwillingness to listen to any amount of criticism from both inside and outside the country, foreign intervention is the only hope. Often those seeking justice are branded as “anti-nationals” or Sikh separatists to silence the activists who have been raising this issue for years. The Congress conveniently labels them as supporters of BJP and its Sikh allies.  The critics of such efforts won’t acknowledge that all of them aren’t from the Sikh community alone. There are some humanists, including those who denounce Sikh separatists, but have been campaigning for justice for 1984.

Rather than demonizing those fighting for justice and fairness, it’s the Indian state in general and Congress in particular that need to be exposed. For the record, an Indian court recently described the 1984 violence as genocide, while the Congress leaders have often compared BJP with Nazis. If that is all acceptable to the Indian mainstream then why Canada is scared of using the “G” word?

Whether the definition of genocide is applicable on the 1984 Sikh massacre remains debatable and not everyone is on the same page. But the fact remains that it was an act of state sponsored terrorism against a minority community and those who committed it must be held accountable.

Canada must rise to the occasion and tell Indian government in clear terms: either give justice to the Sikhs or recognize the massacre as genocide, to send a strong message to the establishment that allowed the killings of its citizens with impunity and refuses to give justice.  That’s the only language a repressive and unresponsive regime understands. By remaining neutral, Canada is clearly siding with the oppressors. The BJP today is just taking advantage of that by normalizing violence against minorities. Thanks to the deafening silence of countries like Canada, the Indian state goes on to persecute minorities and the oppressed communities unchallenged. Canada has to make a beginning somewhere to break this silence. If not now, then when? 

 

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